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As Incyte exits, Innovation Space eyes future

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The Delaware Innovation Space will soon have more than 60,000 square feet of space to lease out to new startups. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DISI

WILMINGTON – For the first time in much of its four-year history, the public-private business incubator Delaware Innovation Space will be able to manage the future of nearly half of its space.

Launched in 2017 as a partnership between the state of Delaware, the University of Delaware and DuPont, some 130,000 square feet of the DuPont Experimental Station off Powder Mill Road in Alapocas was designated under the Innovation Space as leasable to growing startup companies focused on technology or the life sciences.

Incyte will soon begin moving its Innovation Space-based staff to its headquarters campus, completing the move by April. | DBT PHOTO BY MIKE ROCHELEAU

One of the earliest tenants of the Innovation Space though was Incyte, the pharmaceutical maker that, albeit still growing, was a publicly traded, billion-dollar company with a headquarter campus less than 2 miles away.

As it completes a third building on its Augustine Cut-Off campus by early next year, it plans to leave 50,000 square feet of labs at the Innovation Space and move staff to its own facilities, an Incyte spokeswoman told Delaware Business Times.

Bill Provine | PHOTO COURTESY OF ADESIS

That move, combined with the recent Innovation Space “graduation” of the contract chemistry research, development and manufacturing firm Adesis to other Experimental Station lab space, will free up a total of 62,500 square feet for new startups, said Bill Provine, CEO of the Innovation Space.

“The economic impact that we could have if all we ever did was bring people into our building and let them live forever would be about 300 jobs, but we have aspirations for thousands and thousands of jobs,” he said. “We haven’t had this kind of opportunity since we opened.”

This moment is matched by the example the Innovation Space can put forward, with clients like Prelude Therapeutics going public and becoming valued at more than a billion dollars, Provine said. All told, Innovation Space tenants have raised $720 million in seed funding, he added.

Although Provine isn’t sure how that huge Incyte block of 50,000 square feet might be divided up moving forward, he doesn’t prefer the entire chunk to return to one user again. He noted that because the Innovation Space endeavors to grow and graduate companies out into the market, he doesn’t like to see tenancy above 80%, although right now it’s above 90%.

“I’m looking for the strongest growing companies to create jobs and create an impact in the market with great science. We’ll morph our offering to support that,” he said.

Although much has been made of Delaware’s lack of available lab space in recent years, Provine said he views the need for venture capital as the state’s most pressing need. Lab space is costly to build, but promising companies with the right investors build new sites every year across the country, he said.

Provine said that he’d like the Innovation Space to be part of the effort to grow venture capital resources that are badly needed in the state. The nonprofit Innovation Space’s First Fund has been able to invest more than $250,000 in three companies so far, and Provine would like to see that fund grow considerably, but other investors are needed to help scale research and production at these promising firms – many of which simply suffer from a lack of a big enough spotlight.

He said that marketing and professional pitches will continue to go farther afield from Delaware to raise the regional profile of the Innovation Space, which in turn could create more interest from investors looking for growth potential.

“We continue to spread our wings to attract people from all over the country,” Provine said, noting tenants have come from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and even California. “In some ways we’re still teaching people about what we do and what we have available.”

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